CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Ten motorcoaches from Quick’s Bus Company were summoned into emergency service after an Amtrak train carrying members of U.S. Congress crashed into a garbage truck at a railroad crossing.
The Jan. 31 collision killed a truck passenger and injured several passengers on the chartered train, which was carrying Republican members of the U.S. House and Senate to a retreat in White Sulphur Springs, W.V.
After the accident occurred at Crozet, Va., about 126 miles from Washington, D.C., the train cars and uninjured passengers returned to a railroad station in Charlottesville.
The 139 passengers, including about 100 members of Congress, were met by 10 motorcoaches that had been rushed into duty by Quick’s of Staunton, Va.
“We got the call about 20 minutes after the accident happened,” said Jason Quick, vice president and general manager of the carrier. “We are one of Amtrak’s vendors when they have weather-related incidents or delays. It is not frequent but they call us from time to time.
“Our dispatchers started calling drivers,” Quick said. “From the time we got the call to the time we got to the Amtrak station it took about 90 minutes, and the station is 40 miles from our shop.”
Quick’s Bus, a United Motorcoach Association member, operates 34 motorcoaches with 17 full-time and 34 part-time drivers. When the Amtrak call came, it had a yard filled with cleaned and fueled motorcoaches and quickly found many of its drivers.
“January is the worst time of year for the bus business. It is pretty rare to find 10 drivers just like that,” Quick said. “It is not every day you can do something like that. We ended up having a few drivers that we ended up not needing. We have a lot of good people and they knew why they were needed.”
The Quick’s fleet was met in Charlottesville by a security detail like few charter groups ever see.
“The security people went through all the buses and did the bomb sniffing,” Quick said. “Security was very tight, but our drivers were saying how professional everybody was. When they left the station there were the 10 buses and at least that many state police cars and Suburbans and a helicopter.”
Quick was returning from the American Bus Association annual meeting in Charlotte, N.C., on the day of the congressional deployment. Traveling along Interstate 81 at Raphine, Va., as the entourage approached, he and maintenance manager Henry Palmer found an overpass on which to wait and take pictures.
“The helicopter was flying ahead of the coaches and circled around to check us out,” Palmer said.
“Our drivers got the passengers to their destination only an hour after they originally were scheduled to be there,” Quick said. “Our drivers said it was very fulfilling, but they summarized the experience as ‘intense.’ They said things were well run and the people were exceptionally nice and thankful.”
But, he said, “We are all upset about the fatality and the injuries. We work primarily out of the D.C. area so we may glance at one or two famous people once in a while, but not this many at once. Hopefully next time it will be under better circumstances.”
In addition to occasional Amtrak duty, Quick’s Bus has experience with hurricane response service, Quick said.
“The processes have been honed over the years. We do a lot of tabletop exercises with the Virginia and Tennessee motorcoach associations to prepare for these kinds of things. There are a lot of good people involved, including TMS (Transportation Management Services).”
Virginia is home to U.S. Naval Station Norfolk, which supports 59 ships, 187 aircraft and 116,000 military and civilian employees.
“We run a lot of contracts for the Department of Defense so we do practice mobilizations,” Quick said.
The military charters are one of the reasons Amtrak could call upon Quick’s Bus on short notice to carry such important passengers, he said. “Amtrak knows we are background-checked every year and follow all of the DOT laws. We are in the DoD system so it probably is fairly easy for them to vet us.”
Did the politicians learn something about the importance of the motorcoach industry as a cog in the country’s transportation system?
“I hope so,” Quick said. “We are not always treated fairly. UMA and ABA do a spectacular job of looking out for our interests but it is always nice for people to see how hard we work as an industry to do good things.”
The National Transportation Safety Board immediately launched a crash investigation. The train was travelling 61 miles per hour when it hit the truck, an Amtrak spokesman said, and the driver had the time to sound his horn and activate the locomotive’s brakes for 20 seconds.
The collision separated the refuse bin from the cab and frame of the trash truck. In addition to the passenger who was killed, the impact injured the driver and another passenger on the truck. Two Amtrak crewmembers and three passengers on the train were taken to hospitals with minor injuries.
Amtrak President Richard Anderson said the truck was trying to weave through closed crossing gates when it was struck. Area residents told reporters at the scene that the crossing gates were known to malfunction and sometimes stayed down for hours when no trains were in the area.